OTTAWA ― The Conservative government’s announced reforms to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) amount to tinkering and fail to address fundamental flaws with the program, says Ken Georgetti, president of the Canadian Labour Congress.
“The government is trying to patch gaping holes in the integrity of the TFWP with half-hearted reforms,” says Georgetti, “but this falls far short of what is needed.”
Earlier this year it became clear that RBC, Canada’s largest bank, was displacing part of its Information Technology (IT) workforce by using the TFWP. Financial sector workers pointed out the practice of off-shoring and displacing workers was a common practice among the banks, who used either temporary work permits under the TFWP or another mechanism called the Intra–Company Transfer (ICT) visa option.
The ICT option was designed for employers to secure temporary work permits for senior managers and specialized IT personnel, but the number of temporary work permits being issued to potentially offshore and displace workers increased from over 7000 in 2006 to nearly 14,000 in 2011. Georgetti says, “Nothing in the reforms now announced by the government address this situation.”
He also points out that despite claims by the government that a cost recovery fee would be applied to employers and brokers using the program, the individual fee rate the government has established is less than the costs of processing applications.
“In 2009-10, the cost to process an application was calculated to be $342,” says Georgetti. “The changes now will only levy a fee of $275 per worker."
He adds, “Earlier this year, when it was revealed that employers have benefited from a subsidy that amounts to $35.5 million annually, then Minister Jason Kenney promised to put in place measures to cover the costs and provide a financial disincentive for employers to default to using the TFWP. This new measure falls far short of a meaningful disincentive.”
Georgetti says that other reforms, such as increasing the length of time employers must advertise or adding questions to the application forms that will attest to employer’s integrity to not displace workers, will rely on having employers and labour brokers act with integrity. “With less than 14 staff in the TFWP unit dedicated to investigations and over 340,000 temporary work permits issued in 2012 alone, this translates into a case load of more than 24,000 applications for each worker to monitor. In addition, there are just too many cases that have been well documented illustrating that brokers and some employers simply don’t follow the rules that this program operates under. Nothing in the government’s announcement shows a real commitment to cracking down on the abuses that remain with this program.”
The CLC continues to ask for comprehensive reforms. These include: closing the loophole that allows employers access to migrant labour for unskilled or semi-skilled occupations, which are predominantly low wage jobs; using an objective and transparent methodology to verify labour shortages, so that only when shortages are proven will an employer be allowed to apply for a temporary work permit; establishing hard caps on the number of temporary work permits by occupational sector; requiring detailed plans that are regularly monitored to ensure a transition that utilizes the national workforce; investing seriously in job training, workforce development and apprenticeships; providing migrant workers currently in the country with an accessible pathway to permanent resident status, while returning to a national policy of permanent immigration.
“We want to see real reforms to this program rather than tinkering with temporary migration schemes that continue to exploit all workers,” says Georgetti.